Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Gatekeeping: Mothers' Beliefs and Behaviors That Inhibit Greater Father Involvement in Family Work

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Gatekeeping: Mothers' Beliefs and Behaviors That Inhibit Greater Father Involvement in Family Work

Article excerpt

Maternal gatekeeping is conceptualized within the framework of the social construction of gender and is defined as having three dimensions: mothers' reluctance to relinquish responsibility over family matters by setting rigid standards, external validation of a mothering identity, and differentiated conceptions of family roles. These three conceptual dimensions of gatekeeping are operationalized with modest reliability and tested with a confirmatory factor analysis on a sample of 622 dual-earner mothers. With cluster analyses, 21% of the mothers were classified as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers did 5 more hours of family work per week and had less equal divisions of labor than women classified as collaborators.

Key Words: domestic labor, fathers, mothers.

Although men's and women's time in family work is converging (Levine & Pittinsky, 1997; Robinson & Godbey, 1997), women are still doing more family work than men (Demo & Acock, 1993). The prevailing explanations for this unequal distribution of family work are grounded in theories of family power and focus on four major conceptual approaches: relative resources, time availability, economic dependency, and gender ideology (Greenstein, 1996). Although research literature provides partial validity to each of these approaches, Thompson and Walker (1989) argue that these explanations do not explain why wives continue to do a larger share of family work, despite paid employment outside the home.

Perhaps a more effective approach to understanding the division of family labor is one that examines family processes by asking what conditions are necessary for wives and husbands to care collaboratively for their home and children (Thompson, 1992, 1993; Thompson & Walker, 1995). Although scholars have documented that many fathers want to increase the amount of time spent caring for their home and children (Daly, 1993; Lamb, 1997; Pleck, 1997), there are many structural, cultural, familial, and personal barriers to increased father involvement in family work. Daily child care and household tasks can provide an opportunity for both husbands and wives to be connected and committed to protecting, promoting, and nurturing the growth of their children (Hawkins, Christiansen, Sargent, & Hill, 1993). However, more needs to be known about the specific contextual factors that may mediate or regulate men's involvement in family work. Specifically, how women's beliefs and behaviors toward men's involvement affect actual levels of involvement needs more attention (De Luccie, 1995). Scholars have noted that wives as well as husbands resist more collaborative arrangements of family work (Coltrane, 1996; Dienhart & Daly, 1997; Thompson & Walker, 1989). One way women resist increased men's involvement in family work is by "gatekeeping" the domain of home and family. The term "maternal gatekeeping," however, is somewhat problematic and needs clarification.

Briefly, maternal gatekeeping is a collection of beliefs and behaviors that ultimately inhibit a collaborative effort between men and women in family work by limiting men's opportunities for learning and growing through caring for home and children. It is clear from its frequent appearance in the scholarly literature (Coltrane, 1989, 1996; De Luccie, 1995; Dienhart & Daly, 1997; Ferree, 1991; Greenstein, 1996; Haas, 1980, 1992; Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997; Hawkins & Roberts, 1992; Hochschild, 1989; Hoffman, 1983; Komter, 1989; Palkovitz, 1984; Pleck, 1983, 1985; Schipani, 1994; Thompson & Walker, 1989; Whiteside, 1998) that maternal gatekeeping can be one important source of men's underinvolvement in domestic labor and may inhibit mutually satisfactory arrangements for sharing family work. As yet, however, no one has carefully conceptualized or operationalized the concept. Consideration of the nature of gatekeeping may prove to be useful in understanding both the ambivalence that many men and women feel toward men's increased involvement and some of the conditions necessary for men and women to work collaboratively in daily family work. …

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